USDA proposes catfish inspection

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A proposed federal rule would require Department of Agriculture inspections of catfish and catfish products.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Feb. 18 that it will, through June 24, accept comments on the proposed regulations. The proposal was published Feb. 24 in the Federal Register.

The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, also known as the 2008 Farm Bill, amended the Federal Meat Inspection Act to indicate catfish are subject to FSIS inspection.

FSIS officials noted in the Federal Register that the agency hopes to receive comments on how to define which fish are "catfish."The notice indicates the definition could include any species in the family Ictaluridaem, which account for about 46 percent of the value of U.S. aquaculture production, or a broader definition that would include any fish in the 36 families of the order Siluriformes. The broader definition would involve species that are typically farmed in other countries and imported, such as basa, tra, and swai, USDA information states.

Under the proposal, the FSIS would inspect food products derived from catfish, verify that the products were prepared under sanitary conditions, and inspect imported and exported catfish products. The inspections could include tests for pathogens, drug residues, and chemical residues.

Food and Drug Administration regulations currently require that processors of fish and fishery products develop and implement Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point systems that are intended to maintain sanitary conditions for processing fish products. Some producers also pay fees for inspection and certification programs through the Department of Commerce's National Marine Fisheries Service.

The proposed rule and an appendix document indicate that the proposal would move catfish production from FDA regulation to FSIS regulation, and the FSIS would incur costs currently borne by the FDA and NMFS for inspections. The NMFS would also likely stop generating revenue from catfish producers through voluntary inspection.

The FSIS proposal is available at under docket number FSIS-2008-0031. Comments can be submitted at that site, sent to fsis [dot] regulationscommentsatfsis [dot] usda [dot] gov (fsis[dot]regulationscomments[at]fsis[dot]usda[dot]gov), or sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, FSIS Docket Clerk, Room 2-2127, George Washington Carver Center, 5601 Sunnyside Ave. Mailstop 5272, Beltsville, MD 20705.